Written by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Helen Hammond
What’s the idiom? About the grass being somewhat greener on the other side? Or in this case, the Avocado is fresher at another dining table.
Continuing to celebrate their 80th anniversary, stepping away from the political drama and pain of their previous success with Brassed Off! the Edinburgh People’s Theatre take to one of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s most laceratingly malicious comedy-farces, performed in their usual haunt at Church Hill Theatre. Their chosen (of his just shy of ninety) play could only be the marvellously comedic piece of three highly dysfunctional relationships How the Other Half Loves. In re-creating it, EPT reminds audiences why it helped pave the way for Ayckbourn’s success as one of Britain’s most prolific playwrights.
A middle-class lifestyle of lies, deceit, and plenty of dry sherry, Fiona Foster attempts to cover up an affair with her husband’s junior colleague Bob Philips, the pair engorging their lies by informing their respective partners, Frank and Terri, that their late evenings out have been an act of martyrdom, aiding one half of the Featherstone’s couple relating to their fictitious marital issues. Slap-bang in the middle of it all, William and Mary Featherstone become entrenched in the squabbles and comedic japery as Fiona and Bob attempt to hide their affair, and Frank and Terri slowly deconstruct their falsehoods.
Remarkably impactful, this production is carried out with spangles of glittering energy – yet there is still poise to Helen Hammond’s direction which maintains character and development throughout the production, refusing to rest on their laurels and allow the comedy to carry.
Initial concerns about the sequential strips of the set are put to rest with the momentum and precision carried through Andy Hope’s compounded set, which turns the space into both the Foster and Phillip’s homes simultaneously. Striking arrangements of blue and gaudy pink clash as manifestations of the two couples’ remarkably different lifestyles, each adored with all the trademarks of the early-70s must-have furniture and patterns. It leads to an excellent cross-section table which houses two dinner parties, in two differing homes, on two separate occasions – without losing the audiences, or indeed the performers, for an instant.
Be still the aching sides whenever Pat Hymers takes to the stage as the hapless but go-lucky Frank Foster, who turns out to be the boss of our other two men on stage, Bob and William. The first utterances of pomp stutter (his cadence and manner evoke a terrific Karl Swenson) make the character a de-facto central presence, a man devoid of a sense of authority – but Hymers is an undeniable charm upon the stage, working tremendously well off-of Helen E. Nix’s Fiona, whose frustrations and actions somehow become more acceptable as her mind-mapping of all the lies begins to entangle.
It’s a completely different household for Bob and Terri, each played with terrific gusto by Ade Smith and Gemma Dutton. There’s a sickening chauvinism to Smith’s performance, but one laced with enough self-gratified charm and confidence that you can’t help but still fall behind the character. Terri though, has Dutton achieve engrossing moments in the heavier scenes – particularly the show’s famous dinner sequence with her Febrezed-soup and heavy reliance on vino.
Sticking to the letter with Ayckbourn’s play, there are certainly one or two lines which don’t sit well anymore with audiences – nor should they. But they’re only jarring amidst the continued farcical catastrophe occurring around. The writing still resonates: the substantial gap between self-projection and reality is all the more accurate today than ever, but the outdated nature of the laughs attempted from the brutality of domestic violence are a touch too casual.
Initially, the punching bag of the night, Andy Moseley’s William Featherstone, if any, reveals himself to be the closest ‘antagonist’ of the piece – likely not the intention of Moseley, Hammond or Ayckbourn. The mild-mannered victim to the others conniving, the gentile nature of Moseley’s performance belays a far more sinister man who exudes a controlling and bullying nature with his wife Mary: Moseley’s softer voice and manner even more terrifying in some of the later delivery. It’s no wonder that Claire Morand’s Mary is a whole bag of nerves and one which the audience rallies behind as she steadily pushes back against her husband.
You’ll laugh, you may well cry, and you’ll certainly be thankful for the love you have after meeting this lot – Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s How the Other Half Love carries a significantly grim humour throughout its appealing story. A thrifty production where direction, performance, and craft shine through the aged issues to produce an admirable and damn hilarious piece of comedy – it’s the perfect night to have in Edinburgh for those looking for a classic rib-tickler.
A Classic Rib-Tickler
How the Other Half Loves runs at Church Hill Theatre until May 27th. Wednesday – Friday at 19.30pm. With matinees at 14.30pm on Saturday.
Running time – two hours and thirty minutes with one interval. Tickets begin from £15.00 (Con. available) and may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Graham Bell